Obviously, if I were a Patriots fan I’d be outraged at the idea of missing the playoffs after an 11–5 record while an 8–8 team out of the NFC West gets in. And even a Colts fan has a right to think it’s a bit silly that my 12–4 team will need to play on the road against an 8–8 division winner. But I think it would be a mistake for the NFL to try to fix that particular “problem.”
For starters, you have to recognize that it’s not as if we have a plague of this sort of thing happening all the time. If it were happening constantly, you really might want to address it. But we’re looking at a somewhat flukey outcome. Whereas on the flipside, the benefits to fans of the NFL’s heavy focus on the division accrue each and every week. One of the most fun aspects of being an NFL fan is that precisely because of these division phenomena not only are all of your team’s games important, but you have a strong rooting interest in all games involving any of your squad’s three division rivals. It creates more fun over the long haul.
Meanwhile, this isn’t like the NBA where the divisions are meaningless lines on a piece of paper. An AFC East team and an AFC West team will have played very different schedules, so it’s completely legitimate to say there’s no need to make a head-to-head comparison of records from amidst different divisions. It’s true that common sense tells you New England had, in fact, a harder overall schedule. But again to think beyond this one season to the level of general systems, once you start making subjective judgments about strength of schedule you’re slipping toward BCS nonsense. The NFL has an objective system with clear rules (well, clear rules plus obscure tie-breakers) that serves us well the vast majority of seasons — don’t mess with a good thing.